Archived Story

Organ donation: a gift of life

Published 8:41am Friday, April 9, 2010

Niles Daily Star

Part 1 of 2

One could call it serendipitous that Mike Kirby had a newspaper in his hand one morning last year as he was enjoying the winter season in Florida.

He’d been wanting to find a way he could help through volunteerism. He and his wife were volunteers at Lakeland HealthCare and he’d wanted to do more.

“And the headlines in the paper was about how there was such a need for organ donation,” he said.

For Kirby, organ donation would go from being a cause to a passion. And for the countless men, women and children who benefit from the efforts of people like him to encourage more and more people to donate their organs, it would be a life saver.

“I have a very big passion for this now,” he said.

Kirby is a volunteer with the non-profit Gift of Life Michigan, described as “the state’s only federally designated organ and tissue recovery program, providing all services necessary for organ donation to occur in Michigan.”

Kirby visits area Secretary of State offices and works to build more volunteers to do the same, asking those citizens who come in and out if they would like to register as an organ donor.

It’s a job that is becoming increasingly important as he said that many people still think all they have to do is sign the back of their drivers license to be a donor and don’t realize they need to register in order to have their viable organs donated to someone in need.

In need of a chance to survive.

“If anybody was out with any of these people for more than an hour,” Kirby said of needy recipients. “They would be out beating the bushes to get people signed up.”

That’s exactly what Kirby and his army of volunteers are doing.

“There’s 106,664 people waiting for organ transplants in the U.S.,” Kirby said. “Which would fill up the entire University of Michigan football stadium” with people “waiting, hoping, praying for an organ transplant.”

Organ donation is a matter of life and death in more ways than one. For donors, it is a generous gift to give to others but also a difficult decision for families facing the loss of loved ones who might never have considered the option before such unfortunate circumstances.

“We’re still having to confront people at this terrible time,” Kirby said.

He is an advocate for life. He tries to educate potential donors so their decision saves their families from any doubt should they find themselves facing the unthinkable.

“An average of 18 people die every day because they have no organ transplant,” Kirby said. “The thing that drives me every day is I want to make that number 17. I want to make that number 16.”

What keeps people from signing up as donors?

Kirby said it’s a matter of myths and misconceptions, ideas about organ donations that might be not quite right.

For example, the matter of having to register. The idea that there are any limitations.

“There’s no age limit, no prior medical, illness or cancer” restrictions, Kirby said.

Information is available dispelling any notions that it is against religious beliefs.

Right now, Kirby is actively looking for volunteers for the Niles Secretary of State’s office.

Berrien County and the State of Michigan, he said, are relatively low in the number of donors compared to other states.

There are three surefire ways to register, he said.

- Call (800) 482-4881
“I can’t think of a better way to leave this world than the last two seconds of my brain thinking I might be able to help someone I don’t even know,” Kirby said.

Doing so is the first step in saving a life and setting in motion a remarkable turn of events.
Something Lakeland’s Nancy Brown knows for sure.

Read more about Nancy’s story and how a liver transplant saved her life in Saturday’s Star.

Donor Drive 2010
“Lakeland HealthCare is taking part in a massive statewide campaign to save lives by working to help add one million names to the Michigan Organ Donor Registry. Gift of Life Michigan, the state’s only federally designated organ recovery organization, is working with Michigan Eye-Bank and the Michigan Health & Hospital Association (MHA) to enlist the help of hospitals statewide.”

For more information go to

In 2009, the generosity of Michigan organ donors resulted in 862 transplants and saved hundreds of lives. Transplants so far in 2010 total 189. Michigan patients waiting for a transplant as of April 1, 2010.

Kidney         2,381
Liver             322
Lung             44
Kidney/Pancreas     43
Heart             88
Pancreas         12
Kidney/Liver         27
Kidney/Heart     2
Total             2,936

- Each organ donor can save up to eight lives. Each tissue donor can improve the lives of up to 50 people.
- Nearly 10,000 Michigan patients have received a life-saving organ transplant in the last 10 years.
- Cornea transplants have been successful for over 100 years and organ transplants have worked for more than 50.
- On average, 17 Michigan patients receive an organ transplant each week.
- There is no age limit for donation.
- Donation doesn’t cost the donor or the donor’s family anything.
- In 2008, a record 327 organ donors provided 922 organs to waiting recipients in Michigan. More than 800 people became tissue donors and 1,199 corneas were transplanted.

Source: “Facts & Figures” – Gift of Life Michigan,

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